I used the unstable weather for a restday at Kristiansund and decided on a day trip to the fishing village Gripholmen, or short Grip, a small and remote island about 14 km northwest of Kristiansund.
We left the protected harbour of Kristiansund on the vessel Hagbart Waage and headed for the open sea. The wind was tugging at hoods and hair, the spray spurting up from the boat’s bow, as we reached the open sea. I just love it! Since most of the other passengers, hid in the cabin downstairs, I had the bow to myself, and could hold my nose into the fresh air. Amply windswept and soaked, we arrived at Grip an hour later.
Father and daughter guided our small group across the island, introducing us to the long history of this tiny outlet. Despite it size, Grip had been a major fishing village in the Middle Ages, and rose to become the most important municipality in the region during the Hanse monopoly. Whereas the fulltime population comprised between 200 and 400 inhabitants, more than 2,000 fishermen came to Grip at the height of the cod fishing season. Like in Kristiansund, clipfish production was the main industry on Grip. To provide clean space for drying the cod on the cliffs, all turf and vegetation had been removed, leaving only tiny gardens for a little agriculture. Life back then must have been very tough and full of deprivation. Grip has no natural fresh water source, thus, every house has its own water tank to collect rainwater. Electricity was not introduced to the island before 1950, and still today the generators are turned off for eight hours at night.
Not (only) lack of modern amenities, but rather it’s remote and unprotected location made up for the most hardships on Grip. Never dying wind, adamently beating at the wooden houses and boats, and large ocean waves, relentlessly crashing against the cliffs, which, leave the island at the mercy of the elements. Several storm surges nearly wiped out the settlement, washing houses into the sea and destroying the harbour, only leaving the Stave Church unscathed. Not before 1882 were the first breakwaters built to protect Grip from the waves.
The isolation, the defenselessness in the face of the forces of nature, but nevertheless, stubbornly clinging to the home turf (or in Grip’s case, rock) and the close knit community, reminded me strongly of the Halligen, small holms at the German Northsea coast. Although the geological formation and historic genesis could not be any different, the idea of perservering in the middle of the sea, harvesting and suffering from it at the same time, has some remarkable resemblances.
Today, no one lives on Gripholmen anymore, but is still used as a summer outlet by former inhabitants and their descendants. Due to the decrease in fishing, general fluctuation and state centralisation policy, population was decimised over the centuries, and the island was finaly deserted in 1974. The houses, however, are all nicely renovated and a daily ferry service connects Grip with Kristiansund during the summer months. Life is still simple and frugal, but Grip’s families keep strong ties to the island until today. So, i.e., my guide, who grew up spending her childhood summers on the island, adding many intimate details to her guiding, which made for a very personal and lively tour. As it was still early in the season, the island seemed a bit desolate. But the colourful houses, flowery gardens, and maritime decor give it a cheerful outlook, and it is very nice to stroll between the houses and along the narrow alleys.
At the settlement’s centre, protected by the surrounding houses, stands Grip’s ancient little Stave Church, one of the smallest Stave Churches of Norway. Buit in the late 15th century, it has survived most of the surges. It has been carefully and lovingly refurbished, uncovering beautiful medieval wallpaintings dating back to 1620, marvellous ship models and an ancient altarpiece. The altarpiece, it is believed, was once donated by a dutch princess in gratitude for her rescue by fishermen during a heavy storm in 1515.